Gowanus rezoning must not disrupt cleanup, civic watchdogs say

Done!: The Environmental Protection Agency this month completed its pilot dredging-and-capping program inside the Gowanus Canal's Fourth Street Turning Basin.
Photo by Jason Speakman

They want a clean guarantee.

The Gowanus rezoning must not impede the cleanup of the neighborhood’s namesake canal, a community group demanded at an April 23 meeting.

Members of the local watchdog organization the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group voted to pass a resolution demanding that the city’s Gowanus rezoning does not compromise the cleanup effort of the Gowanus Canal Superfund site by allowing for taller buildings and more people, according to one member, who noted that city and federal officials have yet to even agree on whether to mitigate combined sewage overflows coming from the nabe’s current population with two tanks or a tunnel.

“Zoning goes in and EPA and DEP are fighting about tank or tunnel and meanwhile we still don’t know what we’re doing. It’s just silly, the whole thing, when you just step way back to the 30,000-foot height and look at this,” David Briggs said at the monthly meeting of the group at the St. Mary Star of the Sea retirement home.

A lack of foresight could end up biting the city in the back, much like the complex repair issues affecting the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, according to Briggs.

“Don’t do anything that jeopardizes [the cleanup] and do [the rezoning] so we don’t have the triple BQE overpass problem 10 years from now,” he said.

The city should also not include its remediation efforts mandated under the Federal Superfund program as sufficient for the rezoning proposal, because these measures don’t accommodate for future population growth, members demanded.

A senior Department of Environmental Protection official tried to take credit for those efforts at a March 26 meeting, saying that the city doing more than it had to, one member warned.

“One of my biggest concerns from when DEP was here last month was that Angela Licata clearly thinks that they are already doing way more than they’re required to do under the Superfund,” said Andrea Parker. “And it seems from all the zoning documentation that’s come out that they’re just going to say, ‘We’re already building the tanks so we don’t need to do anything additional.’ I think we already deserve the tanks, we deserve the flushing tunnel, pump station – all of the upgrades that we’ve already been promised should not be part of this package.”

At last month’s meeting, the group demanded the city halt its rezoning plans — which would allow developers to erect 22-story towers along the banks of the Gowanus Canal — until the Feds finish the clean up.

The city already has to ensure that current and future high density residential redevelopment does not compromise the cleanup under the EPA’s Record of Decision on the Superfund site, a spokeswoman for the federal agency told the organization, adding that the feds would come back every five years to check on their city counterparts.

“We come back every five years and review the remedy to ensure that it is operating as designed,” said Natalie Loney.

But another member worried that the five-year time frame is not enough and questioned who the community should turn to if something happens within that period.

“A lot can happen in five years,” said Brad Vogel. “What do we do when we see there’s a violation happening that’s compromising the remedy and it’s three more years until the EPA five-year intervention. How is it all going to work, who do we talk to, who do we hold accountable,” he said.

Loney said it is in the city’s best interest to maintain the cleanup after the feds leave so that they don’t have to pay for the remedy multiple times.

“It’s in their best interest to maintain the integrity of the remedy. Nobody wants to have to spend money twice, or three or four times,” she said.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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